Being on the receiving end of kindness and compassion is something I have struggled with quite a lot and still do.
I help organise regular group supervision session for people who work with people who hear voices or has similar experiences. One of our main focus is on how we can bring more compassion in to our lives and in to relationships – whether it is people’s relationship with themselves, other people or voices they hear. We also talk about the barriers and resistance to compassionate ways of relating, personally and systemically.
These conversations always makes me aware of my own resistance to being kind to myself or to have other people be kind to me. I believe in being kind to each other and I feel able to be understanding, kind and compassionate to others. Try to see things from various perspectives, hold the complexity of life and honour how differently we experience things and how something that makes perfect sense to one person can be incredible confusing and threatening to someone else.
But I struggle to have the same flexibility and tolerance towards myself. I have practised a lot and I have had great role models but after years of offering myself kindness and compassion I didn’t see much shifting in terms of how I thought of myself. I started to wonder what was going on. I knew I was trying my best but nothing seemed to shift. The same self-loathing and self-hatred would have daily merry conversations and I would be compassionate towards these parts of me and to the parts of me that were hurting or in distress. But nothing would shift. And I started to think that maybe this idea of it shifting was too ambitious. Too much of a happy hollywood ending approach.
I do think that is partly the case. The grasping for painful things to be resolved is in it self problematic. But I noticed something else.
I noticed that I wasn’t really able to open myself up to the compassion I was offering to myself. I could sort of visualise myself as a hedgehog rolling up and offering all my spikes to the giver of kindness – whether it be myself or others. Or like a duck. Water off a ducks back. Sticking my head into the water but then just shaking it all off again. The kindness not really sticking to me, not really reaching beyond the surface.
I saw it in how I worked with receiving massages. How difficult I would find it – and still do at times – to relax enough to get something out of a massage. A lot of external things out of my control would have to be in place for me to be able to relax. But there were also internal barriers.
Fear is the biggest one. Fear of being vulnerable and of rejection and punishment. That when I relax and become more open I might start to get things wrong, forget the social rules I am expected to play by and offend someone or do something that give other people reason to judge or ridicule me.
Another fear is that of obligation and responsibility. That when I accept kindness from others I then owe them. That kindness is a transaction and I am obliged to return the favour – and of course do it in the right and appropriate way. So this can then feel quite overwhelming and complicated.
I also notice fear of change. I know what I have, all these inner dynamics of self criticism, self sabotage and feeling like I don’t have the right to be at ease in this world – they are all familiar. They have been with me a long time. The may be painful but they feel safe.
If I were to relax more, be more open, more vulnerable and more readily accept kindness as part of my life then how would my life change and would it change beyond my control?
And finally I fear the pain of loss, betrayal and dismissal. If I open myself up to sources of kindness and compassion I open myself up to these being taken away from me. I think most people can relate to that – we get hurt and we withdraw and we feel less inclined to trust again. One of the logical arguments for learning to be kind to ourselves is that is allows us to rely less on other people for kindness and maybe be less likely to get into tricky dynamics of dependence. However this would mean that we believe ourselves to be a reliable source of care. That we trust ourselves.
And I don’t trust myself and I certainly have never experienced myself as very reliable. So I am caught in the same fear within myself as I am with other people. That if I start accepting the compassion I offer myself then I open myself up to the ultimate betrayal – the betrayal of myself.
There is probably much more that I could write about this theme – it is a work in progress and I still haven’t figured out how to get around these dynamics within me. The lack of self confidence and self trust that stops me receiving the compassion and kindness that I do offer myself daily.
But I will leave it here.
I have written a couple of other blogs about self-care where I talk about very similar things.